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Holman Bible Dictionary
The name “Jerusalem” has a long and interesting history. The earliest recorded name of Jerusalem is Urushalim and means “foundation of Shalem,” a Canaanite god of twilight. The Amarna letters in Palestine refer to Beth-Shalem about 1400 B.C. It is first mentioned in the Bible as Salem ( Genesis 14:18 ). Later the author of Hebrews (Genesis 7:2 ) interpreted “Salem” to mean “peace” because of its similarity to shalom . Jerusalem is also called Zion, Jebus, Mount Moriah, and the city of David. Sometimes “city of David” refers to the whole city, and sometimes, to the part that David built.
The physical characteristics of Jerusalem include mountains, springs, and valleys. Jerusalem is built on a mountain plateau and is surrounded by mountains. Its main water source was the Gihon Spring at the foot of the hill of Zion. The plateau is related to three valleys—the Kidron on the east, the Hinnom on west and south, and the Tyropoeon which cuts into the lower part of the city dividing it into two unequal parts. The lower portion of the eastern part was the original fortress, built by prehistoric inhabitants.
All evidence indicates an early existence of the city. Jerusalem seems to have been inhabited by 3500 B.C., judging from pottery remains found on the hill of Zion. Written mention of Jerusalem may occur in the Ebla tablets (about 2500 B.C.), and certainly, in Egyptian sources (Execration Texts about 1900 B.C. and Amarna Letters). Archaeologists have discovered walls, a sanctuary, a royal palace, and a cemetery dated about 1750 B.C. About this time Abraham, returning from a victory, met Melchizedek, the king of Salem, received gifts from him, and blessed him (Genesis 14:1 ). Later Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac on one of the mountains in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:2 ). 2 Chronicles 3:1 understood Moriah to be where Solomon built the temple ( 2 Chronicles 3:1 ) on the former threshingfloor of Araunah that David had purchased for an altar to God (2 Samuel 24:18 ). The Muslim mosque, the Dome of the Rock, stands in this area today.
Jerusalem became a Hebrew city under David. After the Hebrews entered Canaan under Joshua, the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-zedek fought them. He was defeated (Joshua 10:1 ), but Jerusalem was not taken. Later the men of Judah took Jerusalem and torched it (Judges 1:8; compare Judges 1:21 ). Apparently the Jebusites reclaimed it, since it had to be conquered by David almost two centuries later. The occupation of the city by the Jebusites accounts for its being referred to as Jebus (Judges 19:10; 1 Chronicles 11:4 ). See Jebusites .
Soon after being crowned king over all the tribes of Israel, David led his private forces in the capture of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:1-10 ) and made it his capital, a happy choice since it lay on the border between the northern and southern tribes. Zion, the name of the original fortress, now became synonymous with the city of David. The moving of the ark (2 Samuel 6:1 ) made Jerusalem the religious center of the nation. The city began to gather to itself those sacred associations which have made it so important. Here God made an everlasting covenant with the house of David (2 Samuel 7:16 ). Here Solomon built the Temple that David had wanted to build. It was understood to be a dwelling place for God (1 Kings 8:13 ), and the sacred ark, symbolizing His presence, was placed in the holy of holies. Other extensive building projects made Jerusalem a magnificent city.
To the Temple in Jerusalem the tribes came three times a year, so that “every one of them in Zion appeareth before God” (Psalm 84:7 ). The name “Zion” was often used to emphasize the religious significance of the city. One group of Psalms came to be known as “Psalms of Zion” (Psalm 46:1; Psalm 48:1; Psalm 76:1; Psalm 84:1; Psalm 87:1; Psalm 122:1; Psalm 132:1 ). The physical beauty of the city was extolled (Psalm 48:1 ), and its glorious buildings and walls were described (Psalm 87:1 ). To be a part of the festival processions there (Psalm 68:24-27 ) was a source of great joy (Psalm 149:3 ). Jerusalem, the dwelling place of both the earthly (Psalm 132:1 ) and the divine king (Psalm 5:2; Psalm 24:7 ), was where Israel came to appreciate and celebrate the kingship of God (Psalm 47:1; Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96-99 ), one of the central ideas of the entire Bible.
Jerusalem was threatened during the period of the divided kingdom. When the kingdom of Israel split at the death of Solomon, Jerusalem continued to be the capital of the Southern Kingdom. Egypt attacked it (1 Kings 14:25-26 ), as did Syria (2 Kings 12:17 ), and northern Israel (2 Kings 15:29; Isaiah 7:1 ). Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.) had a 1750 foot tunnel dug out of solid rock to provide water from the Gihon Spring in time of seige (2 Kings 20:20 ). In 701 B.C. the Assyrian general Sennacherib destroyed most of the cities of Judah and shut up King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.” The Assyrians would have destroyed Jerusalem had it not been miraculously spared (2 Kings 19:35 ). This deliverance, coupled with the covenant with the house of David, led some to the mistaken belief that Jerusalem could never be destroyed (Jeremiah 7:1-15 ). The true prophets of the Lord knew better. Both Micah (Jeremiah 3:12 ) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:14 ) prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem for her unfaithfulness to God's covenant. The prophets also spoke of Jerusalem's exaltation in the “latter days” (Isaiah 2:2-4 ). They said it would become the center to which all nations would come to learn of the true knowledge of God. This would lead them to “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruninghooks.” Isaiah 60:19 speaks of the time when the Lord will be for Jerusalem an everlasting light. The walls will be called salvation, and its gates praise. The Lord Himself will reign there ( Isaiah 24:23 ).
The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 598 B.C. taking 10,000 of the leading people into captivity. A further uprising led to the destruction of the city in 587 B.C. The loss was a painful blow to the exiles, but they kept memory of Zion alive deep in their hearts (Psalm 137:1-6 ). Actually, the Exile served to enhance the theological significance of Jerusalem. Its value was no longer dependent on its physical splendor. It became a religious symbol for the elect people of God, who centered hopes for the future upon it.
When Cyrus the Persian overran the Babylonians (539 B.C.), he encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4 ). The initial enthusiasm lagged, but Haggai and Zechariah finally motivated the people. The Temple was completed in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15 ). The city itself, however, stood unprotected until Nehemiah came to rebuild the walls. Under the influence of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jerusalem again became the living center of the Jewish faith. Worship in the restored Temple became more elaborate. Continued participation in the sacred traditions deepened the people's appreciation for Jerusalem, the “city of our God” (Psalm 48:1 ).
The restoration of Jerusalem spoken of by the preexilic prophets had taken place (Jeremiah 29:10; Jeremiah 33:7-11 ), but only in part. The glorious vision of the exaltation of Zion (Micah 4:1-8 ) and the transformation of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40-48 ) had not yet been fulfilled. This vision, along with the belief in the kingship of God and the coming of a Davidic messiah, continued to be cherished in the hearts of the faithful. Prophets like Zechariah painted new images concerning the future of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:1 ).
Jerusalem played an important role in apocalyptic circles of the intertestamental period. We read of a preexistent heavenly Jerusalem (Syriac Baruch 4:2 ) that will descend to earth at the end of the age (2 Esdras 10:27,2 Esdras 10:27,10:54; 2 Esdras 13:4-6 ), or, according to another conception, is the place in heaven where the righteous will eventually dwell (Slahyvonic Enoch 55:2). The new Jerusalem/Zion will be a place of great beauty (Tobit 13:16-17 ), ruled over by God Himself (Sibylline Oracles 3:787). The focus of the city is the new Temple (Tobit 13:10 ).
While Jewish writers pointed to future hope, Persians continued to rule Jerusalem until Alexander the Great took over in 333 B.C. The Jews finally won their freedom through the Maccabean Revolt (167-164 B.C.), but after a century of independence Jerusalem and the Jewish nation were annexed to the Roman Empire. See Intertestamental History and Literature.
Herod the Great remodeled Jerusalem. The various conquests of Jerusalem had caused much damage. After Rome gained control, the client-king Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) rebuilt the city extensively. This energetic ruler constructed a theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, a new palace, fortified towers, and an aqueduct to bring water from the Bethlehem area. His outstanding building project was the Temple. Doubling the Temple area, Herod constructed a magnificent building of huge white stones, richly ornamented. Here Jews from all the world came for religious festivals, and here Jesus from Nazareth came to bring His message to the leaders of the Jewish nation. See Temple.
This Jerusalem in which Jesus walked was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in A.D. 70 after zealous Jews revolted against Rome. Not one stone of the Temple building remained standing on another, and widespread destruction engulfed the city. A second revolt in A.D. 135 (the Bar-Kochba Rebellion) resulted in Jews being excluded from the city. From that time until the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, the major role of Jerusalem in the Hebrew-Christian religion has been one of symbol, hope, and prophecy.
Jerusalem has great theological significance. All four Gospels relate that the central event of the Christian faith—the crucifixion-resurrection of Jesus—took place in Jerusalem. The most recent archaeological investigations indicate that the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is almost certainly the place where these events occurred. The prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1; Mark 13:1; Luke 21:1 ), is mixed with prophecies concerning the coming of the Son of man at the end of the age when forsaken and desolated Jerusalem will welcome the returning Messiah (Matthew 23:39 ).
Several New Testament writers emphasize Jerusalem. John told us more than any other Gospel writer about Jesus' visits to Jerusalem during His public ministry, but it was Luke who emphasized Jerusalem most. Luke's opening announcement of the birth of John took place in Jerusalem. Jesus visited at age twelve. On the mount of transfiguration He spoke with Moses and Elijah of His departure (exodus) which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. All of Luke's resurrection appearances took place in or near Jerusalem, and the disciples were instructed to stay there until the Day of Pentecost. Then the Spirit would come upon them and inaugurate the new age, beginning to undo the damage of Babel. Jerusalem is the center of the missionary activity of the church, which must extend to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8 ).
Paul, though sent out from Antioch, looked to Jerusalem as the center of the earthly church. He kept in contact with the Jerusalem church and brought them a significant offering towards the close of his ministry. He envisioned the “man of sin” who comes before the Day of the Lord as
appearing in Jerusalem (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ). “Out of Zion” would come the deliverer who would enable “all Israel” to be saved after the full number of Gentiles had come in (Romans 11:25-27 ). The present Jerusalem, however, still serves as the “mother” of those Jews in bondage to the law as contrasted to the “Jerusalem above” which is the mother of those persons who are set free in Christ (Galatians 4:24-31 ). The author of Hebrews described the heavenly Jerusalem on Mount Zion as the goal of the Christian pilgrimage (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 12:22 ).
Jerusalem figures in the final vision of Revelation. In Revelation the earthly Jerusalem appears for the last time after the thousand-year reign of Christ when the deceived nations, led by the temporarily loosed Satan, come against the beloved city and are destroyed by fire from heaven (Revelation 20:7-9 ). Finally, John saw the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to the new earth. This incomparably beautiful city is described in such a way that it is clear that the goal of the whole sweep of biblical revelation (the glory of the nations, the tree of life, a river of life, eternal vision of and communion with God) is fulfilled, and God reigns with His people forever and ever (Revelation 21-22:5 ). See Revelation.
Joe R. Baskin
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Jerusalem'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/j/jerusalem.html. 1991.